Neville Minchin - A Great Motorist

George Robery Neville Minchin MA was well-known in the motor industry as a supplier of batteries to Rolls-Royce from his two companies, Peto and Radford and Chloride Electrical Co. He was also a keen motorist, who between 1910 and 1950 owned 13 motorcycles and 154 cars.

His first acquaintance with a motor vehicle was when a student, Frank McClean, showed him the motor tricycle he owned. Minchin’s close association with the Hon Charles Rolls commenced quite early, after he had rented a house in Kensington whose owner was Lady Shelley-Rolls, Charles’s sister.

Before this, at Tonbridge, Minchin had followed early motor-races, and in the holidays had been allowed to drive a two-cylinder Argyll in Ireland in 1907. In his first Cambridge term, he bought a 1905 3hp Triumph, which he later sold to the son of Lloyd George, the future Prime Minster, in order to buy a 3.5hp model. On this second Triumph, GRN rode 23,000 miles, mostly trouble-free, and in due course he acquired more Triumphs and a Vindec. In 1913 he, Malcolm Campbell and K Lee Guinness had ridden their Douglases to see the Coupe de L’Auto race at Dieppe.

While at Cambridge, GRN knew many motoring celebrities, including the Guinness brothers, of whom Bill delighted in indulging in wild skids up Windsor Hill, right under the walls of Windsor Castle, in his 40hp Circuit du Nord Panhard. Two other friends were Rhodes Moorhouse and Noel van Raalte, who one Sunday morning raced their respective 90hp chain-drive Fiat and red 100hp ex-Kaiserpreis Minerva from Market Square to the Station, the winner (van Raalte) to pay the fines.

All this encouraged GRN to become a car owner. His first was a single-cylinder 1.3-litre Sizaire-Naudin with transverse ifs and gears in its back-axle. Before the 1914/18 war broke out he had a 60hp Opel with four enormous cylinders and 16 sparking-plugs which shot him into a thick holly-bush when the steering failed, a big Berliet that continually shed its driving chains, and an excellent 1913 26/60hp Metallurgique. In 1912 he took on the 1908 ‘Four Inch’ TT Darracq which Malcolm Campbell had raced at Brooklands. It became an excellent touring Car after its bad starting had been cured. In addition, GRN bought Campbell’s big 1906 59.6hp Vanderbilt Cup Darracq, which he also converted into a fast touring car.

There was also a huge Napier, which he found it hard to sell, so he accepted Mann Egertons’s offer of an exchange for four enormous 40/50hp Ariels with Roi des Beiges bodies. These also ‘stuck’, until GRN got Gordon Watney to put lightweight sporting four-seater shells on them. Other interesting cars included an actual 1913 Coupe de L’Auto Vauxhall, which GRN took to the 1914 French GP at Lyon, and later exchanged for a very fine Prince Henry trials car. The roomy Vauxhall was preferred to a Coupe de L’Auto Sunbeam, which GRN also owned.

Minchin had been to the 1913 French GP at Amiens in a London-Edinburgh Rolls-Royce, and after the war his business association with Rolls-Royce brought him in contact with cars of this make. He had his first Rolls-Royce, R-4873, in 1920.

This was a special car to his own ideas, with a lightweight four-seater body, a proper windscreen, hood, luggage grid and comfortable seats. An unusual feature was a rack at the back to hold six two-gallon petrol tins. The back-axle ratio had the highest gear-ratios available, nearly 3-to-1, giving a speed of 75mph.

But to visit the 1921 Grand Prix at Le Mans, he was driven to Dover by Segrave in the 1914 TT Sunbeam which had been given a four-seater body (the subject of a ‘Veteran Types’ article in Motor Sport in 1930).

A number of Royces followed, making 23 in all, including several Twenties, and in 1924 GRN acquired a 3-litre Bentley, which he drove to Lyon to see Campari win the GP in a P2 Alfa Romeo. Late in 1925 he took delivery of a P1 Rolls-Royce, which had a sports six-light, four-door Weymann-type body by HJ Mulliner, with various special items, the fully-floating machine-turned aluminium dashboard contrasting with the black instrument dials. This was followed in 1928 by a 20hp Rolls-Royce with a six-light, four-door Mulliner saloon body. Other Twenties included a Maddox saloon (GRK 22) and a 1926 Mulliner Weymann saloon (GYK 67).

The P1 figured in an unusual Court case after Minchin had been stopped for exceeding 20mph on the approach to Epsom and summonsed for dangerous driving. He was defended by the great Walter Monkton, QC, and acquitted after it was stated that the speed was quite safe as the latest Rolls-Royce had the six-brake system, which Hugh McConnell, the Brooklands Scrutineer, said could pull the car up in two seconds (or 36ft) from 20mph and in 42ft from the plus-20mph at which the car had been timed(!). It was in this Rolls that Minchin had adventurous runs between Horse Guards Parade in London and Cardiff, carrying the Government newspaper during the 1926 General Strike.

In later times he had several Derby Bentleys, including an early 1934 3½-litre Mulliner saloon (FS 9989) and a 4¼-litre Bentley. He also had a 1935 3½ Bentley with a special lightweight Mulliner saloon body, and when the more powerful 4¼ Bentley was announced, Minchin had this body put on his new chassis, the 3½ then being re-bodied and sold. (Henry Stonor, one of the 4¼’s later owners, discovered that it actually had the earlier lighter 3½ chassis with the larger engine.)

But not all his cars were in this category; in 1929 he took his special-bodied Morris Oxford to the Ulster TT in the company of his stockbroker’s much-praised Aston Martin. When WW2 brought petrol-rationing the Bentley had to go, and Minchin was recommended to try a Frazer Nash-BMW. He was enamoured with his first, a Type 321, and had six more before peace broke out again. After which there was his first American car, a Studebaker, in 1949, followed by Austins and a Rover.

In 1911 Minchin had started collecting back numbers of The Autocar, paying £2 an issue for some. By the time he went to live abroad he had a complete set of 92 volumes from 1895 onwards. There was a sad sequel for me. In correspondence with GRN I said how lucky he was to have those volumes. He replied that before going abroad he had offered them to Rolls-Royce but they did not really want them, pleading lack of shelf-space. In the end Rolls-Royce relented, but GRN wrote to me, “Had I known, you could have had the lot for nothing. But,” he added, “you would have had had a long drive to collect them, perhaps more than once, which you might not have liked.” Not liked? I would have made 100 runs if necessary…

By 1930 Minchin had become an author. Sir Henry Royce, a close friend, had remarked to him how clever people like Edgar Wallace were, to be able to write thrillers. That got GRN going, his resulting mystery novel N7 earning high praise from Royce. As it contains a fine account of the then-famous route to the Riviera and the clues revolve around the setting of the minor controls of a crook’s stolen Silver Ghost, what more could Sir Henry, or you, have wanted? This encouraged GRN to write his entertaining book Under My Bonnet (Foulis 1950), finished on a South African fruit farm. I have obtained much of the material for this article from it. It admirably captures the atmosphere of the old motoring days, even if not entirely fault-free historically. And in 1961 Minchin wrote The Silver Lady, being memories of his R-R cars.

And now what you have been waiting for? Of all his 154 cars, which were his favourites? He lists them as the 1913 Metallurgique, his first 40/50hp Rolls-Royce, a 1929 20hp Rolls-Royce, his 1936 4½-litre Bentley, and the 1939 321 FN-BMW.

This widely-travelled motorist died in South Africa in 1977.